We’ve come up with five marketing techniques that commercial businesses use that can also help nonprofits–and why should you trust our opinion, you ask? Williams Whittle has been in business for over 50 years, one of the longest-running ad agency anywhere. We’ve handled almost every kind of account, from space-age food products to cars to housing to hospitals and a mattress recycling program.

Not to brag, but we have a TV spot in the Clio Hall of Fame (see below).

Ikea:30 “Mobelfacta” from Williams Whittle on Vimeo.

We’ve won Best of Show for a TV spot for a mustard brand and a radio spot for Honda. And we’ve won Effie Awards (in our opinion, the most meaningful of all awards, as the Effie is based on campaign effectiveness) for the USO and the American Red Cross.

The creative we produced for our client Virginia Hospital Center received two MarCom Awards. We received the Platinum Award, which is the highest-level award in this competition, for our OB/GYN Campaign in the digital video: animation campaign category.

And, we also received a Gold Award for our Better Together advertising campaign aimed at continuing to build awareness of Virginia Hospital Center’s collaboration with the Mayo Clinic Care Network.

However, it was our work for USO and American Red Cross that convinced us that we should specialize in the marketing of nonprofits. Why? In part, because we saw that many of the concepts and techniques, we have used for commercial clients could apply to the nonprofit category. Moreover, we saw that they were often not used in the world of nonprofits.

Here they are:

  1. The USP. Remember the Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? It’s that one benefit that your product or service can boast that no one else can. It was invented fifty years ago or so. Marketers are often guilty of growing tired of concepts like the USP as soon as they become widely known only because they don’t feel fresh anymore and there’s a new fad with a “techier” name that supplants it. The USP, or the Core Narrative, or the whatever-you-want-to-call-it, is still vital to identify and to focus on in marketing. It’s a discipline that’s hard to do correctly, but all too often overlooked.
  2. Market Research. Many nonprofits, especially those with smaller budgets, totally ignore the process of finding out what resonates with and moves audiences about their causes. They rely on personal experiences solely. Research isn’t about disproving your opinions about your cause; rather, it helps eliminate blind alleys in messaging and provides you insights into what your audiences are really thinking. In fact, research can help inform a USP by giving you insights into audience perceptions from their point of view, not yours. Can you devote 5-10% of your marketing budget to this vital step?
  3. Outside/In Marketing. If you were building a charity from scratch, no doubt one of the first steps you’d take is to identify not only a need that needs to be fulfilled, but also an audience that’s willing to help you fulfill it. I submit that the latter is at least as important as the former. I also posit that established nonprofits (and businesses) all too often say, “Hey, we’ve got this great cause. How can we get people to sign on to help us?” Nonprofits who first understand the motivations of potential audiences and then cater to them with messages do far better than the other way around. Instead of “This is a great cause. Join in,” your message should be based on “I know you have an affinity for XYZ. Let me show you how my cause fits into what you want to accomplish with your life.” How do you find out what those affinities are? See Step 2 above.
  4. Reaching New Audiences. This is probably the number one goal of most nonprofits we connect with. They have not expanded their donor bases rapidly enough and are too reliant on current donors. There’s a critical need to find new people and engage them in the cause. It’s absolutely the same in the for-profit world. There are many ways to reach new audiences. It’s often a matter of imagination—and budget. Tried and true in the commercial world are strategies like product extensions; new products (as in the automotive world); innovation and new designs (ie, Apple); new products for new audiences (see Under Armor and Nike); and/or simply flooding a market with ad dollars. Smart nonprofits do many of the same things. We have a client that introduced a new initiative and a sub-brand out of their longtime brand and introduced the initiative nationally, all for under $100,000. They were able to reinvigorate their cause and expose it to new audiences who were never aware of them before. How did they do it? In this case, PSAs did the heavy lifting in reaching new audiences. Certain TV and magazine networks have an affinity for their type of cause (better health) and were happy to run our spots for free. As a 501c3, you can take advantage of a good PSA strategy.
  5. Never Forget Emotion. We like to say, “People buy on emotion and justify on logic.” The emotion you evoke in your messages can be laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, relief, or any of a dozen other feelings as long as they are appropriate and strong. This applies to Mission and Vision statements as much as it does to a TV spot. The word “engagement” may be the most over-used word in all nonprofit-land, but without an emotional appeal in your message, it’s likely to be forgettable. Automakers, shoemakers, cologne producers—even Proctor and Gamble—understand this. And they have to sell toothpaste! You have a cause. Why is it worthy? Who will be helped? Nonprofits sometimes deal in life or death, causes that are, by definition, full of ethos and pathos. Go on, make ‘em cry! They’ll remember you.

At Williams Whittle we provide our clients ideas that generate change. Contact us to see how we can work together.